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A Rare and Beautiful Boro Okuso Kimono: Woven from Hemp “Waste”

Written on November 8, 2008

It’s been gloomy and grey here for days. This photo was shot midday, believe it or not: it looks like night time.  I wanted to write a new post, and I wanted to show this incredible okuso kimono, possibly my favorite Japanese country textile here at Sri, so I decided to go ahead and work with the poor light.

Kuso or Okuso is waste or garbage.   In this case, it refers to the waste created in the production of hemp yarn: this kimono was woven from the detritus and crude materials left over from hemp yarn making.   This waste, or okuso, was spun into yarn and woven by rural people to make their garments.   Most likely the better quality yarn they created from hemp plants was sold to those that could afford it, probably urbanites.

Okuso garments these days are extremely hard to find.  This is the only boro okusozakkuri that I have seen, and what is amazing about it is its light blue colored patches and detailing.  The name of this pale blue indigo is referred to as asagi in Japanese.  Asagi is an important word to know if you are serious about Japanese folk textiles as it comes up a lot.  What’s even better about these asagi patches is that some of them are katazome, or stencil resist cloth, and in this case, the fact that these katazome patches are of asagi on white, this is makes it even more special: katazome cloth is more commonly white on blue.

Okuso garments are very much discussed and pictured in the fabulous book “Riches from Rags: Saki-ori &” Other Recycling Traditions in Japanese Rural Clothing.  Here at Sri I am extremely lucky to have two other okuso garments, you can see one here, but this is my favorite, both from the standpoint of rarity and aesthetics.

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  1. Comment by Lainie:

    What a subtle and soulful piece. How lovely. Welcome home – I look forward to every post on this blog.

    November 8, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

  2. Comment by Linda from Each Little World:

    Very gray here, too, but this post really brightened my day! What a lovely garment. And I loved the large piece made out of all the straining bags. It turned those little obscure containers into such a dramatic statment.

    November 10, 2008 @ 9:17 am

  3. Comment by diane:

    thank you for the time you put into this
    okuso garment is very very beautiful I have never seen one before. love reference to waste, garbage.

    also I now have to go back and look at my turban cloth. sounds like these are rare finds. thank you stephan.

    November 13, 2008 @ 10:49 am

  4. Comment by jacy wall:

    This is the most beautiful piece. I am researching mending, particularly of textiles, here in the UK. Mending traditions here tend to be of the ‘invisible’ variety, which has a very ethereal beauty as well, but I find these unabashed little patches and darns so evocative and moving! The Sri website is giving me such rich material. I would be very interested to know if anyone has looked into the Japanese ‘philosophy’ of mending when it comes to textiles – ceramic mends were often outlined in gold lacquer, instilling the piece with more value.

    November 21, 2008 @ 5:22 am